James Clayton

Steamindex home page


Phil Atkins has traced James Clayton in the 1901 Census which states that he was born in Stockport on 17 November 1872 (according to Brian Radford: communication to Phil Atkins).. The obituary in the Journal of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers records that James Clayton MBE died in Wimbledon on 12 October 1946 in his 75th year. We do not yet know the nature of his early eduction. He served his apprenticeship with Beyer Peacock between 1886 and 1893 and at the Technical School in Manchester where he gained the award of Queen's Prizeman. After six years (July 1893 to July 1898) in the drawing office of Beyer Peacock he entered the drawing office of the SECR, and was engaged for a time as Chief Inspector of Materials and of some new locomotives being built by three contracting firms. In 1904 he left to work for the Motor Manufacturing Company in Coventry as their chief draughtsman and assistant works manager and gained experience in internal combustion engines. This must have been relevant to his work on the Paget locomotive, and it is tempting to wonder whether his brief period working for Bulleid may not have planted the idea of sleeve valves with him. Clayton could be remarkably outspoken: he was fearlessly firm in his discussion on Gresley's paper on conjugated valve gears in noting Holcroft's earlier work.

After twelve months he was specially engaged by C.W. Paget (whom the obituary entitles the "chief mechanical engineer of the Midland Railway") to help design and build the patented multi-cyclinder single-stroke locomotive. This experience must have exploited his experince of the internal combustion engine, and probably enhanced his subsequent audacity. Work described in an offprint from a Railway Gazette article (Ottley 3049).  For two years Clayton was in charge of the casualty and investigation section of the running department at Derby and in 1907 was appointed assistant chief locomotive draughtsman.

In 1914 when he was passed over for the post of Chief Draughtsman at Derby, he rejoined the SECR as leading locomotive draughtman and shortly afterwards as chief locomotive draughtsman. From 1919 Clayton was Maunsell's personal assistant, and latterly Maunsell's deputy. He was a pillar of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, being a member of its Council, and eventually a Vice President, taking charge of general and Council meetings..

It is now obvious that James Clayton occupies a seminal position in locomotive design within a very broad context. In his extensive contribution to the discussion of Cocks paper on the History of Southern Railway locomotives Holcroft stated that: In any survey ot Maunsell's achievements the valuable services rendered by the late James Clayton should not be overlooked, and he (the speaker) was very pleased that the President had recalled them. Clayton was a past-master of detail design in locomotive work; nothing was too trivial to escape his attention; he was painstaking and conscientious to the highest degree, and no C.M.E. could wish for a more devoted assistant and adviser. The reliability of the locomotives in service was raised to a high level by this unrelaxing care.

Taking note of his observations made during discussiion sessions, Clayton was extremely antagonistic towards systems of derived motion (this must have caused friction with Holcroft), although in favour of multiple cylinder designs. He was also greatly impressed by the Midland compounds. Furthermore, the relationship between Holcroft and Clayton is recorded on page 129 of Holcroft's Locomotive adventure: "We had frequent discussions on various matters as they arose, and. any decisions arrived at came after an exchange of views, which might coincide. At other times we did not see eye to eye on account of. differences in temperament and training. Clayton's experience at Derby influenced him towards practice that was both conservative: and entirely safe!. [KPJ's emphasis] He had brought along a large roll of detail drawings when he left Derby and these he could fall back on and study at his home as occasion necessitated; his bedrock was 'what we did on the Midland'. . On the other hand, my leaning was towards the radical and the venturesome. Having been inspired by my experience of Churchward's drive and his progressive outlook at Swindon, I found, any other attitude tame and insipid. It was difficult to get Clayton to try anything new unless the proposal came from Maunsell himself; he would rather hold back and wait until such time as it hid first been tried out elsewhere. , In view of our close association and differences in temperament; it was almost inevitable that we should fall out now and again and scarcely be on speaking terms for a short time; but these flare-ups soon blew over and were quickly forgotten. .

Note: The James Clayton Award has nothing to do with the "railway James Clayton". The major Institution of Mechanical Engineers Prize is made on behalf of the textile engineer who was born in Preston in 1901 and died in Torquay in 1944: he was Chief Engineer at Courtaulds.

Book chapter

The organization of the locomotive department in Macaulay, J. Modern railway working: a practical treatise by engineering and administrative experts... London: Gresham, 1912-14. Volume 2. pp .47-69.


The bridge curve. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1917, 7, 311-20. (Paper No. 54)
Based on 2-6-0 and its tender: presumably the SECR desgin
Method and system in the drawing office. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1917, 7, 375-437. (Paper No. 57)
Langridge Under ten CMEs (p. 70) notes that the Clayton sysetm of drawing office organization was still in use in Derby and that Clayton had taken the system to Ashford
The lubrication of a modern locomotive. 473-503. Disc.: 504-15.
Engine failures. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1928, 18, 409-24. Disc.: 424-31; 610-22 + 10 folding plates. 6 diagrs., table, 9 facsim. forms. (Paper 232)
The paper noted the reduction in the number of locomotive failures on the SR, since 1923.

Locomotive and Carriage Institution. paper on Southern Railway locomotive development presented on 8 Feabruary 1930. Locomotive Mag., 1930, 36, 107
Paget locomotive. Railway Gazette reprint
See Locomotive Mag., 1946, 52, 80.

Contributor to discussions: he was the Dennis Skinner (Beast of Bolsover) of the Institution being utterly fearless in his comments

Beaumont, J.W.  Some suggestions on steam locomotive design. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1936, 26, 417-24. Disc.: 424-37 . (Paper No. 355)
Survey of current development. Includes details of an LMS Doble boiler Sentinel locomotive. Discussion: J. Clayton (425-6) commented on the Doble boiler, noting that he had enjoyed riding in a steam automobile fitted with a Doble boiler and engine, that the Germans had exploited the Doble boiler to a far greater extent, that British locomotive development was limited to the LMS 20 ton locomotive which shunted at Crewe, and that elsewhere 1200 psi boiler pressures were achieved. (this probably tells us a lot about Clayton's interest in the unconventional). On the Garratt type Clayton adopted a more traditional approach, noting that the length of the type would cause problems on passenger train working, especially at stations like Waterloo where trains of reduced length would have to be employed to accommodate the locomotive. He also noted problems with the use of Garratts in tandem where the power bogies would be adjacent and would cause load problems on bridges. Lastly, considered the Velox-boiler locomotive which Clayton considered that "we shall hear a great deal before long" due to its ability to enhance steam production..

Brown, Herbert
High pressure locomotives. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1928, 18, 689 (Paper No. 237).
Asked how routine maintaenance would be tackled; the weight of the boiler and the exhaust pressure..

Dewhurst, P.C.
British and American locomotive design and practice: some comparative comments thereon from practical experience. 375-423.Discussion: 424-511.Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1922, 102. 461
Long contribution which set out most of his design philosophy on Belpaire fireboxes, Cartazzi guides, etc

Fry, Lawford Some constructional details of a high-pressure locomotive. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1928, 18, 331

Gresley, H.N.: Three-cyclinder high-pressure locomotives. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs.
It is noteworthy that Clayton opened the discussion and challenged Gresley on the Patent priority, quoting Holcroft's patent of 1909, and argues that over-running of the inside cylinder was an inherent design fault of derived gears, and it was better to have three sets of valve gear. Nevertheless, he supported the advantages of three cylinders drives and argued that they led to lower fuel, but higher water, consumptions (on tests with SECR No. 822).

Holcroft, H. (Paper No. 430): Smoke deflectors for locomotives. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1941, 31, 462-89. Disc.: 490-509.
J. Clayton (501-2) considered that the alignment of the mainlines had some influence on smoke deflection: on the SR the problem was greatest on the West of England mainline, although this contrasted with the GWR where smoke drifting did not appear to be a problem.

McDermid, The locomotive blast-pipe and chimney. J. Instn Loco. Engrs. 1933, 23, 162. (page 206)
Queried the use of an oil jet as a model for steam as oil had a far greater mass and cited Goss (but not precisely). His experience on the SR suggested that the blast-pipe orifice should be lowered in relation to the chimney and that a large diameter chimney should be used. In terms of exhaust chambers he cited tramway engines built for Java where the device was used to reduce noise and sparks. It is tempting to wonder whether these ideas may have influenced Bulleid's decision to adopt the Lemaitre blast-pipe. .

Scott, J.S.  The lining-up of locomotive frames, cylinders and axleboxes. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1937, 27, 668-9. Disc.: 666-76. (Paper No. 377)
Like other speakers, I have been much interested in this very practical Paper. It is good to find that someone does believe it is still worth while taking meticulous care over the poor old locomotive. The old idea of a straight-edge and a piece of string of varying thickness may have been regarded as satisfactory in the past, but to-day, as the Author shows, endeavours are being made to apply the use of instruments of precision now available to replace old methods. I should like to see more of this care exoended on locomotives that go in for repairs, not only at the works, but also in the running sheds. This Paper is a very opportune one, and it should be of immense use to those on our railways in this Country and also to railways abroad.
On the question of collars on axles, our experience on the Southern Railway is that they can be dispensed with provided care is taken to ensure that wheel face surfaces are ample in all cases

Selby, F.W.  Compound locomotives. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1930, 20, pp. 95 et seq. (Paper No. 257)
Emphasised that Churchward had acquired de Glehn compounds, but that he did not construct any; considered that the LMS compounds were ""wonderfully successful engines" that they did not feature any "gadgets"; the success of Deeley's reducing valves and the "love of the British engineer for simplicity" and noted the "bugbear" of the Worsdell-von-Borries type.

Shields, T.H. The steam locomotive and its future in relation to electric traction. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1926, 16, 329-31.
Clayton observed that the SR successfully employed.exhaust steam injectors and achieved a 3-4% reduction in coal consumption. He argued that larger boilers were more efficient and repair costs were lower. Questioned Shield's reference to smokebox superheaters: all were then of the tube type, and dampers were no longer employed. He cited the success of compounding combined with superheating on the MR/LMS. Clayton favoured the condensation/displacement lubricator..

Vallantin, R.G.E. Compound locomotives of the P.L.M. Rly. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1931, 21, 285.
This Paper comes to us at a very opportune time; in the first place because we have recently had read before our Institution another interesting paper by Mr. Selby (* See Journal Vol. XX., No. 95, page 287) on the same subject. These two papers together will constitute a book of reference which I sincerely hope may give to the question of compounding a new lease of life in England, because I myself feel that we in this Country have tended to relegate it too much to the dim past; we have forgotten, in our anxiety to meet the ever-increasing demands made upon us by the trafic department, that there is still another side of the question, namely that of the more economical use of the steam. Now that we have the advantage of superheating and all the modern improvements in materials, we should try to give by the compound principle a new lease of life to the steam locomotive. It is said that a country always gets the government it deserves. Can it be said with equal force that a country always gets the form of traction best suited to its needs?
I am glad Mr. Stanier has told us something about the Great Western experience, because many of us have wondered why Mr. Churchward, one of the most shrewd locomotive engineers of his time, did not adopt the compound principle. The same thing applies to the L.M.S. experience; why, when the Royal Scots were produced, some consideration was not given to compounding, after the wonderful experience the old Midland and the L.M.S. have had with their compounds.
We are, of course, aware that conditions vary, and those in France are not quite comparable to the British. When we go to the Continent we generally travel by selected trains from Calais to Paris or from Boulogne to Paris, so that we see largely their best work. When you are comparing the locomotives of different countries, however, you must take the locomotive practice as a whole into consideration. The best English practice is, in my opinion, as good as the best French practice, but conditions vary and we in England have not, as has already been pointed out, the added advantage of the more ample loading gauge which exists in France. Notwithstanding this, however, locomotive engineers in this Country would do well to turn their attention again to compounding.

Williams, W.C. (Paper No. 299) Modern articulated steam locomotives. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1933, 23.
J. Clayton (133-4) opined that it was "something which should make all British engineers, and members of the Institution in particular, proud of the name of one of its members, the late Mr H.W. Garratt, and also of Beyer Peacock". He then questioned the performance of the flexible joints and the reason for the ecellent boiler and was informed that this was due to the large great area and large firebox heating surface, the good steam space, wide water legs, shorter tube length combined with a larger number of tubes. The gas area was increased by 35 to 50% and the gas velocity was reduced which led to less lifting of the fire. Flexible joints were not a  problem.

Railway Club: 11 March 1937 see Locomotive Mag., 1937, 43, 114
"The modern locomotives of the Southern Railway" to members of the Railway Club at the Royal Scottish Corporation Hall on 11 March 1937.  He mentioned the standard features embodied in all the designs and the many restrictions on size and weight.


Mainly from Holcroft's Locomotive adventure

Besides the work in the office, Clayton visited the drawing offices and shops at the various Works, most frequently at Eastleigh, but also at Ashford and Brighton to keep in touch with events. Then there were meetings at the Railway Clearing House, the British Standards Institution, the A.R.L.E. and so on to be attended, and occasional trips to Derby, Swindon, Doncaster or Stratford to be fitted in. In fact, he led a truly strenuous life.

When at Derby, he was known by the nickname of 'Swish' from the rapidity with which he darted from place to place. After under going two operations while at Ashford, he was forced to limit his physical activity, and it was further reduced by the onset of arthritis, from which he sought relief by a course of spa treatment at Harrogate. However, he could not shake it off entirely, and this creeping disability over the years caused him ever deepening trouble with hands and feet.

Clayton, who was some seven years Holcroft's senior, was of medium height and spare in build, but he was wiry and had plenty of pluck to make light of his troubles. At meetings or any formal occasions he always contrived to occupy the centre of the stage, and to press others into the background and away from the limelight. As Hooley used to say of him, 'There's no show without Punch.' His mental activity was great and his attention to detail meticulous. In his zeal he would go into the shops at Ashford and investigate faults in design or suggested improvements of parts at the bench, and the foremen were apt to be carried away by him and to act without orders from the Works Manager. This led to conflict with Pearson, and the C.M.E. had to intervene and straighten things out.

It seemed to me that after anxious times at Ashford earlier on Maunsell feared that he might be bereft of Clayton's services in some way and without much warning. For instance, it was hinted that the necessity for a third operation might prove fatal; there was ever present the chance that his disability might become so acute as to enforce his early retirement. By pairing me with him the C.M.E. had someone in the background completely au fait with all that was going on and who could be called upon to deputise as occasion arose. There is a group photograph between pages 96 and 97 which shows Clayton in the centre of the front row next (right of in photograph) to a man in a thick overcoat, Clayton is also near the centre of a group photograph taken to mark Maunsell's retirement: the two men are seated in the centre of the front row (Clayton looks frail)..

As personal assistant to R.E.L. Maunsell, James Clayton played a leading role in the design of the latter's locomotives. He had been apprenticed to Beyer, Peacock for six years ending in 1899 when he joined the SECR at Ashford, where according to Atkins (Railways South East 1, 122) he designed the cab and splashers of the D class 4-4-0. He was briefly at the Motor Manufacturing Company in Coventry (1903) (Radford states Albion Motor Co.) before joining Paget on the MR to design of the unorthodox 'Paget Locomotive'. (presumably the internal combustion engineering was appropriate). Before joining Maunsell in 1914 he was chief assistant in the Midland Railway's drawing office and during the First World War saw much of Churchward while engaged in war work. Whilst at Derby he input into a 2-6-2T design for the Southend section, and these clearly influenced the SR 2-6-4T designs.  The Midland shape of many of the details of Maunsell's designs no doubt reflects Clayton's work, but he also approved the incorporation of basic Churchward features. Clayton's nickname "Swish", his rapid change of posts, and the pose in the group photograph in Atkin's article show an eager character. Like his chief Clayton was plagued by ill-health, especially arthritis.  

Portrait: O.S. Nock: Southern King Arthur family. 1976. p.21: looking very frail.

See: Holcroft's Locomotive Adventure.

Group photograph at Swiss Locomotive Works, Winterthur on 2 June 1930.
J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1930, 20, Plate (between pp 466-7) and present in group photograph taken at Railway Centenary in Darlington: J. Instn Loco, Engrs, 1925, 15, 576

Updated: 2016-11-20